Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008 - Hello 2009

In the closing hours of 2008, it is time to reflect a little on this turbulent year.

I have been heartened by how many people have worked together to peacefully and agreeably iron out their differences to reach creative agreements in settling their divorce and/or parenting issues. Even when just the fact of divorce has been hurtful, I've watched parents work together to make sure that their children have the benefit of two loving households. I've seen parents put their children's needs before their own to create plans that allow their children to thrive, despite divorce or separation.

On the other hand, I've worked with parents who have not been able to let go of the conflict between them, even years after their divorce or separation. I've watched children shrink a bit as parents have put more energy into their anger with each other than they put into building up the children. I've seen parents use the children as weapons to hurt the other parent without considering how their actions hurt the children.

As 2009 opens in a few hours, here are my wishes for the year:

• That all parents will respect and honor their children.
• That all parents will put their children's needs before their own.
• That parents during and after divorce or separation will talk to each other as they would to their boss or a customer.
• That parents will let go of their conflict and anger with each other so they can use that energy in positive ways to build relationships with their children


What are your wishes for 2009?

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center,

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advantages of Using Alternatives to Divorce Court

Ever wonder why some people choose to handle their divorce through mediation or arbitration rather than going to court? Here are some of the advantages both mediation and arbitration of your divorce offer over court.

Expense - In mediation, a complete divorce and parenting agreement can generally be reached in 8-16 hours. If the two of you cannot agree on the color of the sky, you can plan on double that time. The hourly rate of a mediator is about half the hourly rate of two attorneys arguing about the same issues. Even if each of you consult with an attorney for an hour or so before, after, or during mediation, a mediated divorce will cut your cost significantly.

Flexibility - Courts are overwhelmed with more cases then they have time to hear. You might have two days worth of information you want the court to consider, but the court might only have half a day to take your case. In addition, courts are required to follow rules of evidence that often limit the information they can consider during your case. Information you might think it crucial to understanding your situation, cannot be considered if it is hearsay or not presented correctly. Arbitration of your divorce by an arbitrator experienced in family law is an excellent way to fully and completely present your case. Arbitrators have more time and are not bound by the rules of evidence. The arbitrator's fee is generally comparable to that of one attorney. Arbitration is more relaxed than court and can usually be scheduled in a matter of weeks instead of months. The arbitration award is binding, just as a court order is.

Control - During mediation, you are in control of your own process and your own agreement. The mediator will guide the process you have chosen, but you are free to change direction and to make agreements that might be unconventional. Courts generally do not have time to be creative in making orders regarding property distribution, parenting issues, or support. You are more likely to get a one-size-fits-all solution from the court than in an agreement that is crafted for your unique situation.

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center,

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

During Divorce, Communication Style Influences the Outcome: Or, What You Say Is Less Important Than How You Say It

Separation and divorce are often times of high tension and conflict. How you present yourself to the people involved in your case can affect the outcome.

If you feel like you're just not being heard, no matter how hard you try, it's time to become calmer and quieter. This is really effective, even though it goes against your natural response, which is probably to get louder and more excited. When you think about it, you can understand why.

When someone raises their voice to you, the common reaction is to raise your voice in return. When someone ignores what you say, the common reaction is to speak louder and become more excited to try to forcefully make your point. When someone questions what you say, it's common to become defensive, argumentative, and shrill. Of course, all of these reactions lead to similar reactions from the person you're dealing with.

On the other hand, when you are calm, or at least appear calm, the other person tends to mirror your calmness. When you are quiet, the other person tends to respond quietly. The more composed and quiet you are, the better the chances are that the other person will listen to you and truly hear what you have to say.

I don't pretend that this is easy, it's not. It actually takes a lot of practice. And, believe me, during separation and divorce you will have many opportunities to practice. But when you see the results, you will want to invest in the effort.

Whether you are mediating your separation or parenting issues, or talking directly to the court, making your points calmly and quietly will serve you well.

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center,

Friday, December 5, 2008

Parenting Coordinator Post Exposes Festering Wounds

WOW! I seem to have really touched a nerve with my October 22 post on using a parenting coordinator and/or decision-maker to help break the cycle of conflict between parents after divorce.

Based upon the comments on that post (not all of which were printable or published), I really want to try to generate more of a discussion on this blog. It's clear that many people are frustrated by their custody/parenting cases. More comments are from men than women, but the problems are definitely not unique to men. In looking over the blog post topics, I can see why the parenting coordinator post, in particular, generated such strong comments. It's really been the only post in a long time that offered an opening to anyone frustrated by their case.

I do not make the laws or regulate the "system" that many of you find so frustrating. For those of you looking for a place to discuss your frustrations about your case or the "system", however, please leave comments that tell me exactly what topics I can address that will be helpful to you. If you just want to vent, that's fine, but there are some rules:

• No swearing or personal insults
• Courtesy is a must
• Comments written in all caps will not be published

My purpose in writing this blog is to post information that will be helpful to people trying to cope with parenting after divorce. Sometimes that information is pointing out ways to avoid problems before they start. Sometimes it's asking you to consider a problem from the child's point of view. And sometimes, like with the post on parenting coordinators and decision-makers, the information is to indicate tools that are available to help you move out of conflict if that's what you really want.

So, let's get this discussion going! What can we do to help?

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center,